After seeing The Castle, one is left to assume that people of a certain class in Australia wear ugly sweaters and have bad haircuts. Advertised as a movie where the proletariat, underdog hero stands up to the faceless, multinational billionaire conglomerate in the name of underdogs everywhere, The Castle instead comes across as a rather condescending, paint-by-numbers working class hero movie. Daryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is the enthusiastic, noble patriarch of a wacky, lower-income family whose perpetually unfinished Pippi Longstocking-esque house is in danger of being purchased by the evil government and cleared for airport expansion. Within minutes of the opening credits, the lines are drawn: Hooray for the Kerrigan family and boo for the land-grubbing bad guys.
The Castle practically hits you over the head in its efforts to make the Kerrigan’s lovable. There’s mom, Sal (Anne Tenney), who does a lot of crafty, hobby shop stuff, like mod podge a tray and glue ric-rac to a light fixture. Then you have the daughter, Tracey (Sophie Lee), who graduated from beauty school and married a kickboxer. The sons are Steve (Anthony Simcoe), the classified ad bargain hunter, Dale (Stephen Curry), who cheerfully narrates the movie, and the oldest son, Wayne (Wayne Hope), in jail. The family is what one might assume the filmmakers meant to be characteristic of a family living in that kind of neighborhood. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because of my own white trash DNA, but I was offended that these people were made to be such obvious caricatures of the poor. And though Daryl fights for his land with all of the resources he can muster, it ends up that a rich, over-educated Queen’s Counsel lawyer (Charles Tingwell) comes to their rescue.
Filmed with garish colors and loud clothing, similar to Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle seems to believe that brightness and silly wallpaper is more important to character development than a good script. Originally released in 1997, this movie is only now being distributed in this country, perhaps in the wake of the current interest in people with accents and their raucous adventures, a la Waking Ned Divine and The Full Monty. The difference is that those films gave the performers something to work with. This movie is cliche almost immediately and, as a result, kind of boring.
Yet, in spite of its flaws, there were several moments I enjoyed. Tiriel Mora, as the lawyer Dennis Denuto, was funny and provided my favorite gag of the movie in his office machinery battle (but also provoked the biggest question: would a lawyer be that dense?). I liked the dogs and the power towers, and I really wanted to root for the Kerrigan’s. Who can resist a good ‘underdog taking on the authorities’ movie? But I found myself expecting the outcome, not anticipating it. The Castle does a lot of talking about the sanctity of a family’s home, but doesn’t spend much time developing the Kerrigan dwelling as a character itself. If the filmmakers had done so, The Castle might have given me more to cheer about.
+ david kern